This is not a the type of post you normally get from me but I felt compelled to jump out of my comfort zone given the amount of coverage that DefCon is getting as a result of banning “Feds” from attending DefCon 21 this year.
My personal opinion on this is somewhat irrelevant given DefCon is not the type of conference I attend given the core topics covered are not my day job. For what it is worth however I am a staunch believer in having as open and transparent a dialogue between two opposing viewpoints as possible, and therefore feel this is an odd and somewhat self defeating decision.
But perhaps more importantly I feel there is something of a naiveté surrounding the fact that 1) people think the message will be taken seriously by the Feds, and 2) that the Feds have not successfully been undercover there anyway.
I know that the “Spot the Fed” fun that occurs every year is seen as proof that the general community of attendees is able to spot the government moles that attend. I find this preposterous though! Whatever department of “Fed” it is that attends, be it the NSA, FBI, CIA or other TLA agency I think it is germane to appreciate that these are a group of people who successfully infiltrate organisations far more dangerous than DefCon, and for far longer periods. Undercover operations are taken extremely seriously, require extraordinary amounts of character and commitment, and are not easily undermined. I am sure someone with the power of Google will be able to find the odd example of undercover operations that have gone awry, but to my mind, there are likely to be more Feds at DefCon than anyone would think, and there have been for years.
I am not going to go into what the motives for doing this are, that is for people far more politically minded than me. I would however suggest that this years Spot the Fed competition will be a dud, not because they aren’t there, but because the Feds who attend in plain sight won’t be attending. Who will you be sitting next to at DefCon this year, and how much about them do you really know?